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A Guide to Physical and Mental Wellness while Volunteering Overseas

by isabelle mills 

 

Volunteering overseas is an incredible adventure, full of new experiences and opportunities to explore everything your destination has to offer. The nature of volunteering in an unfamiliar environment means that you will be constantly challenging yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone. With all of the highs that come from working with the local community, you may also come along some bumps in the road. Have a read of this guide for some tips to keeping yourself feeling healthy and happy, so you can make your volunteer trip the best it can be!

 

Tackling Homesickness

It's completely normal to experience homesickness when you're away from your friends, family and routine back home. The customs, food, way of life and language are all things that you will need to get accustomed to when you volunteer overseas, and you may struggle at times. If you are feeling homesick, there a whole range of things you can do to feel better.

 

First, you can do things that remind you of your routine back home. This might be going for a walk, doing some yoga or just chatting to your family and friends on FaceTime! You can also take the time each day to write down 3 things that you liked about your day. This could be anything from an amazing dinner you ate, a new friend you made or your favourite activity on site that day. Probably our most important tip is to make sure you talk about it! You're most likely not the only volunteer feeling this way, and talking with others who are in the same boat can really help - a problem shared is a problem halved.

 

Finally, try to remind yourself each day why you decided to volunteer. Reflecting on this reason will help you relish in the positives of the experience like the opportunity to travel, see the world and make a difference to communities in need. You are only away for a short period of time and if you're able to really live in the moment, before you know it you'll be back home with your friends and family!

 

Drink LOTS of water!

This might seem obvious, but it is essential that you stay hydrated during your volunteer program. Being dehydrated will make it extremely difficult for you to perform at your best and you will be more susceptible to falling ill. When it comes to staying hydrated, we always say drink double the amount of water you would usually drink at home. The weather is often not only hot but humid as well and you will be doing a fair amount of physical exercise. 

 

You will have easy access to clean, filtered water at your accommodation, so the only thing left to do is have a drink bottle and remember to fill it up and drink regularly. If you're worried that you'll forget to drink water, pair up with another volunteer to be your hydration buddy. You can take it in turn to remind each other each hour to have some more water - an easy way to stay happy and hydrated!

 

Make Mindful Eating Choices

It’s crucial to make careful choices when you go out to eat, because it might just save you from getting a bout of food poisoning. Our volunteer hubs have a fantastic staff that will cook you delicious meals, however you have the option to dine out at a local restaurant or any other food vendor you can find. If you are wanting to try the famous street food that decorates the streets of our destinations, make sure you pay attention to the way the food is prepared and cooked. Your safest bet is to going to a vendor that is busy with locals so you know that the food is fresh and hasn't been sitting out in the sun all day!

 

Coping with a new routine

You will be given a schedule prior to beginning your volunteer program that outlines meal times, when you’ll be out on location and when you are free to relax, explore or lesson plan. And although you have ample free time during the afternoon and evening, it can come as a shock to volunteers who don’t have a similar schedule back home. You might be used to taking a shorter break in the middle of the day and finishing later in the evening, or you might not be used to getting up so early in the morning! If you start to feel a bit out of whack with this new routine, try to be flexible as much as you can, but also feel free to incorporate elements from your routine back home. This could be in the form of exercise, journalling, or maybe doing some reading before bed. 

 

Stay Social

It’s easy to find yourself needing to recharge and relax on your own after a big day of being on-site, but it is important to balance your 'me-time' with spending time with the other volunteers. Being on your own too much can bring on feelings of isolation and homesickness, which we want you to avoid as much as possible! You will have opportunities every day to spend time with other volunteers, whether it be going out for drinks, exploring town or heading on an adventure over the weekend. Turning down too many of these opportunities can leave you feeling alone and like you're not making the most of your experience. Try to be mindful of this as you balance your alone time and social activities.

 

Know Your limits

Our volunteer programs are called “challenges” for a reason. You will be challenged to push yourself and step out of your comfort zone no matter which program you choose. This means that at times you may feel overwhelmed and will have to work hard to complete the program to the best of your abilities. In saying that, there will be no one judging you for needing a moment to cool down and collect yourself. You and your team will be there to support each other through the challenging parts of the journey, whether it be tackling an uphill trek or struggling with teaching plans.

 

The best sense of accomplishment comes from achieving something outside of your comfort zone. If you're able to lean in to the challenges facing you on your volunteer program while also knowing your limits, you will have the most wonderful time and experience tremendous personal growth!

 

This is a guide that can be followed in any of our amazing programs across the globe, but a big part of kickstarting your mental and physical wellness is choosing a volunteer program and location that suits you. Get your journey started by having a browse of our volunteer challenges to see which program meets your interests!